Page Hamilton is the only guitarist who can trace his way from working with militant avant garde composer Glenn Branca in tight New York spaces to opening for Guns N' Roses in arenas. But Helmet, Hamilton's influential metal band, rose out of his stint studying jazz guitar and playing in one of Branca's guitar armies. After a spell in avant-rock group Band of Susans, Hamilton applied a compositional tenacity learned from Branca (so strict John Cage once referred to his work as fascism) to the heavy metal field. He ignited a firestorm of dynamic, anally precise metal sometimes erroneously labeled post-hardcore. Helmet's debut Strap It On and Meantime became instant classics, handled by the expert guitar-sound producer Wharton Tiers.
Helmet's strength was steeled by the rebar skeleton of Hamilton and Peter Mengede's guitar playing, and drummer John Stanier bolted it to the ground (Stanier is now in Battles). Helmet tied threads from metal's shiny steel-toed boots to the Vans skate sneaks of the mosh pit until calling it quits in 1998. Hamilton remained restless and ambitious, collaborating in areas outside of the strain of metal he helped build. He worked with trumpeter Ben Neill and recorded Zulutime, an album of duets with German guitarist Caspar Brotzmann.
Metal came calling again, though: In 2004, Hamilton reformed Helmet with all new members. They have released two albums since—that year's Size Matters and last year's Monochrome.
Then, last winter, the band got the unlikely call of which metalheads dream: Axl Rose, touring with a newly reformed Guns N' Roses that included hired Guns like Replacement Tommy Stinson, kicked the Eagles of Death Metal from his tour. Helmet joined. How appropriate: Guns N' Roses remains one of those rare rock bands revered by Sabbath and Maiden devotees and trainspotters who dig them the way they do Nevermind. Hamilton and his stylistic mash-up in Helmet are directly responsible for such hands-across-the-aisle diplomacy between these camps even still.
Helmet plays at Volume 11 Tavern Saturday, Nov. 10, with Burning Brides, Totimoshi and H.O.W. The show starts at 9 p.m. and costs $25.